The Road to Varanasi
After yet another night of celebrations, six crews were up early to take on the weekend traffic and begin their journey to Varanasi, India.
The Alvis 4.3 of Michael and Anne Wilkinson (Car 8), Mark Robinson and Yvonne Fuller’s Rolls Royce (Car 10), Richard Cunningham and Paddy Walker’s Mercedes 280SL (Car 20), Tim Wilkinson and Steph Duckworth’s Camel Range Rover (Car 21), Barbara Shooter’s Land Rover Defender, now with former entrant Mark Seymour co-driving (Car 24), and Rudi and Helga Friedrichs also in their Defender (Car 27).
Over the next four days, these six crews would drive around 750km across the border to India’s most holy city.
In the true spirit of the rally, some of the remaining crews came to wave us off as we headed out into the weekend traffic. Young girls were dancing on the pavement, playing fields hosted football tournaments, and the worshipers walked to temple.
As we left the city behind us, the countryside appeared with the roads lined with Peepal trees, mango and pineapples in full season, and a Sal tree plantation – with each tree worth thousands due to the strength of wood.
We followed the Trisuli River into Pokhara, a city on Phewa Lake, in central Nepal. It’s known as a gateway to the Annapurna Circuit, a popular trail in the Himalayas.
Our first stop was the Gurkha Museum, which celebrates the achievements of the renowned Gurkha regiments. Accompanied by sound effects, it covers Gurkha history from the 19th-century Indian Uprising, through two World Wars to current-day disputes and peace-keeping missions, with a fascinating display on Gurkhas who have been awarded the Victoria Cross medal.
Its an emotional visit but more so for Richard Cunningham who was certain he’d found a picture of his father while looking through the exhibits.
After driving past the Lakeside area and out towards the other side of town, some dirt tracks and a river crossing lead to an oasis where we would spend the next two nights.
Nestled in the natural paradise of a lushly forested valley and set against the backdrop of the majestic Himalayan mountain range, The Pavilions Himalayas is a truly eco-sensitive luxury resort that gives back to the local community. Set on an organic farm, the crews would enjoy the natural beauty of Pokhara, the gateway to the Annapurna Himalayas.
From Pokhara, relaxed and well-rested, our crews started the next leg of the journey to Lumbini some 200km away. A thunder storm the previous day left the tracks out of the resort muddy and the cars ploughed through the mud as children walked to school on the roadside.
Car 20, Richard and Paddy’s Mercedes hit a rock causing the central exhaust mounting to come off, but the spares were retrieved from their boot, fitted and they were soon back on the road.
Winding roads, up and down mountains, into the valley floor and a horrendous dilapidated road to hotel, the crews found themselves where the first Lord Buddha was born and a beautiful UNESCO world heritage site where many visit as part of their pilgrimage.
The next morning, crews were up early for the final leg of this epic adventure, crossing into India and the 326km route to Varanasi.
Car 10, Mark and Yvonne’s Rolls Royce had a fuse issue before they even reached the Nepal/India border but sweeps Dick Last and Karim Demynn were on hand to help.
The rest of the crews headed for the border. Various offices had to be visited, dodging across busy roads lined with brightly coloured trucks waiting to cross into Nepal.
Once the border formalities had been completed, there was a huge journey ahead on manic roads, through towns and villages and frenzied traffic – all in baking heat. It wasn’t an ideal curtain call for our crews who were following the northern plains to the Ganges and a rendezvous point where their cars would be exchanged for a boat ride to the final hotel.
The event couldn’t end without a few last-minute dramas; The Mercedes of Car 20 overheated and then had a dead battery. Undeterred, Paddy grabbed a local and jumped on a moped to head to buy a battery which was promptly fitted so they could reach the finish line.
Mark and Yvonne continued to have a nightmare of a day with fuses, fuel and fume issues. It was nearly 11pm when they finally arrived at the meeting point where all hands helped to get all their luggage out of the car.
A midnight cruise up the Ganges with the lights sparkling in the dark and the last remnants of the fires burning provided a fitting end to this incredible adventure.